Multidrug resistance (MDR) is considered to be an important impediment to the effective treatment of cancer. P-glycoprotein, the drug efflux pump that mediates this resistance, can be inhibited by a wide variety of pharmacological agents, resulting in the circumvention of the MDR phenotype. SDZ PSC 833 ([3'-keto-Bmt1]-Val2]-cyclosporine), a nonimmunosuppressive cyclosporine D derivative, was identified to be a potent MDR modulator (Gaveriaux et al. J. Cell Pharmacol. 2:225-234; 1991). In this study, the interactions of P-glycoprotein with two cyclosporine derivatives, SDZ PSC 833 and cyclosporine A (CsA, Sandimmune), were analyzed. SDZ PSC 833 enhanced the sensitivity of the MDR cells to anticancer drugs by increasing the accumulation and inhibiting the efflux of cytotoxic agents from resistant cells more efficiently than CsA. The two cyclosporine analogs competed with the labeling of P-glycoprotein by a photoactive cyclosporine derivative. In addition, membrane vesicles derived from resistant cells bound SDZ PSC 833. However, CsA was transported by P-glycoprotein, whereas SDZ PSC 833 was not actively transported. This resulted in a prolonged inhibitory effect by SDZ PSC 833. The studies suggest that the binding of SDZ PSC 833 to P-glycoprotein in the absence of its transport from MDR cells mediated its high potency as an MDR reversing agent. In addition, the comparison of the two cyclosporine analogs indicated that limited chemical modifications of MDR reversing agents can affect their potential to inhibit P-glycoprotein function.